On Procrastination November 2007

I have heard the term Procrastination for the first time only a few months ago (I think it was in PhD Comics). Since then, the word keeps popping up more and more often on my radar, and so it was no big surprise (although worth a smile) to hear a session on the topic being announced at a bar camp in Berlin this morning. Of course you have experienced procrastination, everyone has I guess — and it can be frustrating at times. But is it really a call for self-discipline or productivity management techniques, as commonly suggested, or should you not rather listen carefully and even give in from time to time to the alarm signs of your brain that just doesn’t seem to want to work on the tasks you (or someone else) are trying to force it to?

One of the main reasons for procrastination that were mentioned in the session was distractions by a never ending bombardment of emails, bog posts, tweets, calls and alerts. But distractions like these are not the reasons for procrastination but mere artifacts, things that your brain is looking for in its under- or overwhelmedness with the “important” tasks assigned. I am writing this blog post without constantly checking my email or twitter now, because I am really involved with it and I want to get it right.

My claim is that if you procrastinate regularly, there is something wrong. Deeply wrong. Try listening to yourself — if your brain needs idleness, go home or go for a walk. Be brave and do it, even if you are supposed to work! Neither you nor your boss will profit from continued procrastination and the unhappyness and frustration that comes with it. If you constantly think about other things to do, you are most probably bored. Then you should think really hard if what you do — or what you are supposed to be doing — is really worth it. Do I really need this job? Do I really want to do a PhD? Do I really have to get christmas presents for my family? What is worth spending your time on in your life? Think deeply. Now. No matter how you decide, if you decide honestly, everyone will profit — also the people you think you are doing a favor by keeping those tasks on the list.

I am not saying that complete drifting and laziness should be the goal of our existence or that procrastination cannot take pathological forms, but it always astonishes me how obsessed people are with “success” in the very narrow definition of accomplishing tasks, often other people’s tasks, and they take that definition of their success from sources that are either channelling a social norm (media) or far more powerful and in a better position to exploit them (their bosses), without thinking about what would make their lives really successful.

Overcoming procrastination is certainly not a matter of deciding between boring to-do’s or twitter or cleaning — it’s a decision between what really matters in life and what doesn’t. We are a substitute society, and procrastination is our name for our addiction to substitutes. Feeds for adventures. Cleaning up for feeling at home. Tweets for love and friendship. Next time, step back for a minute, think about what you are missing and choose to make a real change, instead of trying to trick yourself back into the treadmill.

P.S. I want to share with you the hilarious video shown in the session: